Snowmobilers Face Avalanche Dangers

Snowmobilers Face Avalanche Dangers

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Sammy Linebaugh reporting Hop on a snowmobile these days and you're in for some lightening speed.

In fact, the new generation machines are getting snowmobilers into areas they've never been before. And that's leading to new dangers.

If you've spent any time in Utah's backcountry this winter, chances are you've come upon a snowmobiler stuck in the snow.

Chris Draper/ Snowmobiler: "Number one rule-- don't go alone, because if you'd just done what I did and found that sink hole alone, you'd have been here a long time."

Chris Draper knows how to ride. He's snowmobiled for decades. But in powder this deep anyone can get stuck.

Eric Stucki/ Utah State Parks and Recreation: "Your machines are getting bigger. They're getting faster. Technologies are getting snowmobilers into areas they've never been in before."

And that, says Eric Stucki with Utah State Parks, not only means more 911 calls, it means avalanche gear anymore is a must.

Eric Stucki: "Always take a beacon, probe and shovel. Not only take it with you, but take it on your body."

Craig Gordon/ Avalanche Forecaster: "Out of all the user groups, snowmobilers have led the list in avalanche fatalities."

In fact, from 1996 to 2002, snowmobilers account for 44 percent -- nearly half -- of all avalanche related deaths nationwide.

There were 18 fatalities last year alone, not to mention all the near misses.

Craig Gordon: "If you look out here on Murdock Mountain, you can see some evidence of some real big natural hard slab avalanches."

Avalanche forecaster Craig Gordon is pointing to a recent slide off the Mirror Lake Highway that swallowed trees as it tumbled to the base of a popular playland.

To help recreators stay informed on the safe areas, Gordon conducts hundreds of tests throughout Utah's backcountry, carving slabs then analyzing the snowpack to determine slide potential.

Based on that test, forecasters have determined the avalanche danger here is moderate, which means a human triggered avalanche is possible.

And knowing that information -- before you go --experts say is your best tool of all for playing it safe.

Tomorrow morning on Eyewitness News Today, Sammy will have more on snowmobile safety for kids and show you the latest in snowmobile technology. That's from 5:30 to 7am.

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